Anatomy of Erdogan’s Kashmir salvo.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has an uncanny way to deal with things and Kashmir has been one of his favourite topics to stir, whenever needed. One has to understand Erdogan to understand Turkey’s stand on Kashmir.
Erdogan rose from a society that ws grappling with ‘modernism vs orthodoxy’ debate. Although, he himself remains a typical modern man, who has not forced women to wear headscarves in Turkey or brought any stringent Sharia law, but his measures remain to be populist when it comes to political Islam.
For a long time, the father of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Attaturk has loomed as the symbol of modernism and uplift in Turkey. Attaturk seized the massive empire created by the Ottomans and transformed it into what is the present day Republic Of Turkey.
Erdogan hasn’t eroded him from history nor is Attaturk misjudged. He remains in all official images of the country as he should be. But what Erdogan has changed is the social fabric of the Turks. Born to a ferry captain and himself a factory worker and part-time footballer, Erdogan knew the pulse of the workers in Turkey, who were generally strugglers and formidable with faith.
Erdogan started young in politics as a grassroots worker till he became the mayor of Istanbul in 1994. But, a year later, he was indicted by the court and arrested for his inflammatory poetry. From there, the rise took place till what we see of him today. But at the same time, he was not totally against joining the European Union for which Turkey has been struggling for a long time. His apprehensions came out when he, once in an interview with journalist Gideon Rachman, said: “If the European Union has decided to be a Christian club rather than one of the shared values, then let it say so now.”
Erdogan’s rise has been meteoric and democratic and he survived military coups which only proves the potential of his power and ambition. Today he lives in a Presidential Place in Ankara which is bigger than any building known and, if compared with India’s Rashtrapati Bhavan or Kremlin, it is much bigger with one thousand rooms. His dream home is at a hilltop with all the possible ways of escape even from nuclear attacks.
While being a member of NATO, Erdogan poses himself as the most influential and powerful leader of Eurasia. Erdogan’s Justice Party, or AKP in Turkish, is now a strong entity with a widespread following and he is a strongman who wants to establish the old Caliphate – what the Turk Ottamans had lost along with the empire. It means, Erdogan will be the political and military ruler of most of the Sunni Muslim world – symbolically so.
If one goes through his rise, one can figure out why Erdogan talks about Kashmir. It was not for the first time that he spoke for Kashmir. His relations with India are not bad but not great either. Recently at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the Turkish President again spoke about Kashmir and said: “India and Pakistan, after having established their sovereignty and independence 75 years ago, still haven’t established peace and solidarity between one another. This is much unfortunate. We hope and pray that a fair and permanent peace and prosperity will be established in Kashmir.”
Days before that, at the SCO in Samarkand, Erdogan had met the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss bilateral trade which has reached over 10 billion USD as per fiscal 2021-22.
At UNGA, Erdogan’s comment on Kashmir was milder than what he said in 2019. With the fall in economic growth, Ankara is trying to walk a tightrope between relations with India and the larger Caliphate politics.
In 2019, when the Indian government abrogated articles 370 and 35(A), the OIC was a bit upset and Turkey’s President was vocal about it. In his address at the UN in New York this month, Erdogan said the Kashmir issue had to be resolved through “dialogue on the basis of justice, equity, and not through collision.” He added that, over the last 75 years since, the Kashmir conflict had not received adequate attention from the international community. “Despite the resolutions adopted (by the UNSC), Kashmir is still besieged and eight million people are stuck in Kashmir.”
The most scathing of his speeches was when he addressed the Parliament in Pakistan in 2020, comparing Kashmir with the World War I Gallipoli campaign when the Ottomans faced a crushing defeat. He had said then that Kashmiris “suffered for decades … It was Canakkale (a reference to a military campaign in World War I Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman people) yesterday and it is Kashmir today, there is no difference.”
Whether or not Erdogan thinks of Kashmir as a real problem or knows the detailed history of the region is still unknown, but it is for sure that his ambition to stand beside the Islamic world, not just as part of OIC, but in the larger canopy is what matters to him.
The politics of larger ‘Caliphate’ can’t be ignored although as a democratically elected leader he has to steer his country’s economy and well-being of the people, especially in the times of financial crisis.
Turkey has a history from the Byzantine Roman to Constantinople and from Ottomans to Attaturk and today’s Erdogan. The journey is long with various diversities intermingled, which is epitomized by Hagia Sophia which was built as a Cathedral in 6th century, converted to a mosque in 15th century, converted to a museum by Attaturk and then again transformed into a mosque by Erdogan.
India’s External Affairs Ministry has kept its stance clear that Jammu and Kashmir remains an internal matter and anything with Pakistan would be resolved bilaterally. But Turkey being a NATO ally and an influential Muslim nation makes a large difference when it takes a stance on Kashmir in the international arena. India will have to find ways to cultivate Erdogan.
Shome Basu is a Delhi-based senior journalist.